“The Israel x Palestine conflict is an issue in which both sides are right and in which both sides make mistakes, this is why it is complex. If it were binary, where one side is bad and the other side is good, it would be very easy to understand. What happens is that the Palestinians have the right to self-determination and so do the Jewish people. And we hear speeches from both sides denying the other, not the majority. Neither side is homogeneous, there is a great diversity of ideas”, says Karina Calandrin, PhD in International Relations and specialist in Israel.
The new escalation of violence in Jerusalem, in May of this year, raised discussions about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians – a dispute that began in the 1940s and still has no near conclusion – and once again drew the attention of the international media to the region. The interviewed internationalist analyzes the long and complex confrontation, highlighting points that must be taken into account in order to understand what is happening in the region.
To understand the struggles between Israelis and Palestinians, it is necessary to understand what Zionism is.
Zionism is the movement that arose in Europe at the end of the 19th century from a more intense persecution of Jews on the continent. “Anti-Semitism has always existed, since the time of Ancient Greece, but some episodes at the end of the 19th century were turning on a red light in the heads of many Jews from an economic and intellectual elite”, points out Calandrin. In this way, the Zionist movement emerged as a way to claim Jewish self-determination and the need for the constitution of a Jewish State.
The internationalist points out that, like any other ideological movement, Zionism is a plural movement. There are Marxist, neoliberal, religious, right-wing and other strands, but what unites them all is the self-determination of the Jewish people in a nation-state.
“There are countless debates about where this state would be built. The very founder of the Zionist movement advocated that Israel should be built in Patagonia. Israel being where it is today was not a consensus and it took until it was formed where it is today”, she says.
- The origins of the conflict and the creation of the State of Israel
The issue is so complex that even the origins of the conflict are already a deadlock for scholars and experts on the subject. Calandrin states that in order to understand its beginning, it is necessary to discuss European imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, the region where the conflict between Israel and Palestine now takes place was dominated by the Turkish-Ottoman Empire, until, with the beginning of World War I, the Empire ceased to exist and the region became dominated by the British Empire.
At the time of British rule, the region was already inhabited mostly by Arabs, from the time of the Islamic Empire. With the rise of Zionism and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, from the Dreyfus case, to the rise of Nazism and Fascism to power, a mass immigration of Jews out of Europe begins to occur, taking people to the United States and Latin America, but also to the place where today Israel and Palestine dispute their territories.
“What happens is that, at that time, the Palestinian Arabs were already fighting against the British for independence and for an end to colonial and imperialist domination. And the immigration of Jews to the region ends up putting in check this movement of the Palestinian Arabs fighting for independence and it starts causing a problem. The problem It was not directly between Arabs and Jews, as is often posed. The problem was against the British mandate and the struggle of the two peoples for self-determination. At that time, the Jews who were immigrating were doing so because of anti-Semitism, not all of them were immigrating for ideological reasons,” points out Karina Calandrin.
Jewish immigration leads the British to issue the White Book, a document that imposes limitations on immigrants to the region – a demand of the Palestinian population in the 1936 General Strike. After this, Jewish paramilitary groups are created and the situation in the region becomes untenable, leading Britain to give up its territory in favor of the creation of two states, which was agreed upon at the UN. The Arab countries do not accept and protest, but the resolution is approved and, in the following week, the Arab countries invade what would be the State of Israel. Britain and France fight against these countries, giving victory to Israel and consolidating the Israeli state. From then on, the Israeli state is created and consolidated, and the Palestinian state is not.
- The motivations for the conflict and arguments on both sides
It is common to see those who say that the current causes and objectives of the conflict are religiously motivated, thus classifying it as a clash between Jews and Muslims. For Calandrin, this is a mistaken vision of what happens in the region: “The motivations of the conflict are territorial. Saying that the Israel/Palestine conflict is religious is having a wrong view of it.”
Both sides are supported by arguments that, according to the specialist, are not homogeneous in their populations, but are the majority: “On the Palestinian side, we have the narrative that there was the Palestinian state, it has always been the Palestinian state, and therefore the State of Israel should not exist there; there is Palestine and should be with the Palestinians. Then there is the narrative that Israel is a colonial and imperialist state and promotes Palestinian genocide. On the Israeli side, the justification for the conflict, defends the Jewish state from the persecution of Jews over the centuries, especially in the Holocaust, and that the Palestinians would not let them live in peace”, she explains.
Currently, the main point of conflict between both sides is Israel’s illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories. “Today, the conflict is territorial because Israel occupies the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Therefore, for the formation of a Palestinian state, this occupation has to end, so that these territories can constitute the Palestinian state,” points out the internationalist.
- The difficulties of negotiating peace in the region
Among the many difficulties of preventing the conflict from reaching a resolution, Calandrin singles out four that deserve more attention: the city of Jerusalem, the Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, the Arab refugees, and Hamas.
Jerusalem, a city considered sacred to Jews and Muslims, is claimed as the capital of its state by both Israelis and Palestinians. The sovereignty of the city is one of the demands required for the creation of a Palestinian state, which sets up a stalemate. On both sides, there are those who advocate the division of Jerusalem, so that the Western part would be the capital of Israel and the Eastern part, the capital of Palestine. However, on both sides, there are also those who assume that Jerusalem is an indivisible city, not accepting in any way its division. Thus, as the internationalist points out, the dispute over the capital delays peace negotiations in the region.
Currently, the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, considered illegal under international law, occupy about 500 thousand people. So half a million Israelis live in Palestinian territory. These settlements form entire cities – with clubs, schools, colleges, neighborhoods and more. In addition, the occupation of the settlements began in 1967, so generations and generations of Israelis have lived and grown up in these places. Karina Calandrin highlights that this sets up another obstacle for the agreements between Israel and Palestine: for the creation of a Palestinian state, these settlements would need to be vacated, but, due to the large number of people who live there, this operation would be very difficult. If they are not vacated, in order to pass sovereignty to Palestine, Israel would need to consider land compensation for the Palestinian people. In both cases, a lot of dialogue and negotiation between both sides would be necessary – negotiation that, today, does not exist.
The internationalist also points out that, contrary to what many people think, Israelis who live in these places do so because of the lower cost of living there, not for ideological reasons: “In these settlements not only people who want ‘the end of the Palestinians’ or only Jews live, any Israeli can live there, and generally they live because it is cheaper than living in large urban centers.”
Another demand required by the Palestinians for the creation of their state is the return of refugees to the territory in which they lived before the creation of the State of Israel. Currently, these territories are Israeli, which, in practice, would result in a demographic problem: “The UN recognizes as Palestinian refugees not only those who were expelled in 1947, but all their descendants. And Israel is a territorially small country, with a small population. And there is also the demographic issue because it is a Jewish state, if they received all these people, they would lose their Jewish majority”, points out the interviewee.
There is also a split in the Palestinian government: Hamas is the government representative in Gaza and the West Bank is governed by the Palestinian National Authority – which has been run by Fatah for twenty years. Hamas is considered a terrorist group by Israel and the United States, which represents a stalemate in the creation of a Palestinian state for the Israelis.
- Occasions when peace between the two was negotiated
Calandrin points out that there have been some attempts to negotiate and agree peace between Israel and Palestine, but that have not been concluded.
The Oslo Accords, a pair of agreements made between 1993 and 1994, were the most important of all attempts to solve the conflict, very little was left for a definitive agreement. In these accords, the disengagement from Israeli settlements was discussed – so much so that, as the internationalist states,in 2005, eleven years later, the settlements in the Gaza Strip were disengaged- the recognition of a Palestinian state, the recognition of Israel as a sovereign state by the Palestinians, the return of Palestinian refugees expelled in 1947 and the partition of Jerusalem.
The Oslo Accords did not go forward because the Israeli Prime Minister, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated a year after they were signed by a Jewish Israeli who opposed them. This represented a stumbling block for the Accords, which were stalled and did not progress as they should have.
In 2000, a new peace proposal, which included the conditions of the previous ones and new demands, was presented, but the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) representative did not accept it. In 2005, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, made a new proposal that was not accepted by the Palestinians and did not succeed. Then, in the same year, the Gaza disengagement took place and the agreements were frozen.
In 2007, Hamas takes over the Gaza Strip and in 2009, when Benjamin Netanyahu takes over as Prime Minister of the Israeli government, Israel’s position is that there were no Palestinian partners on the other side for any kind of negotiations. “In their [Israel’s] view, Hamas is terrorist, Fatah does not represent the totality of the Palestinian people, so there would be no partners for negotiation, and nothing has been done since then, other than Trump’s proposal, but that there was no negotiation on both sides”, Calandrin points out.
Donald Trump’s proposal, cited by the internationalist, is the Middle East Deal of the Century, presented by the former U.S. President in January 2020, to resolve the conflict. Among the solutions he offered were: Jerusalem would remain the indivisible capital of Israel, the village of Abu Dis would house the capital of the Palestinian state, a space in the south of the Israeli territory would be given to the Palestinians for industries and residences, which should double the Palestinian area, USA would open an embassy in the Palestinian capital as well, there would be guaranteed visitation of Muslims to the holy mosque of Al-Aqsa, in Jerusalem, and also the injection of US$ 50 billion to Palestine to generate 1 million jobs.
The agreement, however, was not negotiated by either side.
- New escalation of violence in May 2021
The latest escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians began in Israel. The specialist points out that one of the great controversies of the State of Israel is the structural racism suffered by people of Arab origin. Thus, even though the population of the country is diverse – consisting of Jews, Arabs, Christians, African immigrants – Israeli Arabs are the biggest victims of police brutality.
“There had already been some violent events in Israel against Israeli Arabs, until some protests started to take place in Jerusalem, especially after bills on vacating some neighborhoods that are occupied mostly by Israeli Arabs were discussed”, Calandrin says. These protests were supported by Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and in response, Hamas launched rockets at Israel, which was the trigger for a new wave of violence, after Israel‘s retaliation.
“We have to say that there is a military asymmetry between Israel and Palestine and on the Israeli side there is a defensive system [iron dome] against these missiles, which do not reach the ground. On the Palestinian side, there is no defense system of this level. Gaza City is very concentrated, and when Israel strikes back, civilians are hit and die. The death toll between Israel and Palestine is very different: In Israel almost nobody is killed and in Palestine many people are killed because of these discrepancies. But Israel always says that it has the right to defend itself from Hamas attacks and that it is not aiming at civilian targets. This last conflict was not involving Gaza and the West Bank, it was a conflict involving the Arab population inside Israel“, she analyzes.
- New government in Israel and the future of the conflict
In June 2021, a vote in the Israeli parliament removed Benjamin Netanyahu from power after twelve years and appointed a new prime minister: Naftali Bennet. The new Israeli government draws attention because it is completely unprecedented; it is composed of parties from the left, far-left, right, center and, for the first time in Israel’s history, an Arab party.
“It’s hard to say how the situation will play out now because we have a new government in Israel, which is a national unity government. So that might lead to changes, Hamas is seen as the main threat to Israel there in the region, apart from Iran. The tension is always going to exist, but it’s hard to say exactly how it’s going to play out. It’s a multi-party government, which has never happened in Israel before and we will have to wait and see how it will deal with these issues”, considers Calandrin.
- The United Nations and the United States in the face of conflict
“The UN has a complicated role because, in the end, it is responsible for all this mess”, says the specialist. The partition of Palestine was carried out by the Organization, therefore, Calandrin points out that, many times, it assumes a more rigid posture towards human rights violations committed by Israel than towards other countries that also violate them.
The rapprochement between Israel and the United States started in the 1970s, during the Cold War. Before that, the Middle Eastern country was more aligned with the Soviet Union, because Israel was formed by Marxist Zionism. Karina Calandrin explains that the rapprochement between the countries came as a strategic point for the Americans to have a partner in the region besides Saudi Arabia, countries that are also opponents of Iran.
“Besides that, nowadays this rapprochement is due to the large number of Jews in the US, which has the largest Jewish population in the world, so there is a very strong Jewish lobby in the US government to support Israel”, she concludes.
- How the Brazilian political polarization embraced the conflict
“The Israel/Palestine conflict is a bit difficult to deal with because it involves a lot of passions, even more in Brazil. Polarization also ended up embracing this conflict – the right-wing embraces the Israeli flag and the left-wing embraces the Palestinian flag, and that has nothing to do with it,” says Calandrin.
The Israel expert highlights that the phenomenon of the 2018 elections, resulting from – and acting as an intensifier of – the political polarization in the country, also had its effects on how Brazilians view the issue between Israel and Palestine. She explains and recalls that the current government has an evangelical bench in Congress that is strongly represented by the Universal Church, which has a specific belief that for Jesus to return, all Jews have to be in Israel. Thus, they place themselves as supporters of the country and, as a response to the adoption of the Israeli flag by the right – in street demonstrations and in speeches by President Jair Bolsonaro – the Brazilian left-wing politics have embraced the Palestinian flag and cause.
However, for Calandrin, the vision that evangelicals have of Israel is “a 1st century vision”, besides being contradictory: “They say they are very supportive of the Jewish people and Israel with this religious interest. Except that in their view the Jews have to convert to Christianity, because otherwise they are sinners and go to hell.”
“The conflict is called by a professor I like very much as intractable, not only because it is long, but because it has established a psychological wall between the two people. We have two excluding narratives, one side excluding the other, and with this it is very difficult to establish a dialogue. A resolution is possible, but for that, they need to negotiate”, says Calandrin. She also reinforces that excluding narratives must be fought: “Denying the existence of the Jewish people as a people is anti-Semitism, you can criticize Israel all you want, but not the existence of the Jewish people. On the Palestinian side, the same thing: you hear people who are not necessarily Jews, Israelis, who are not connected to the conflict, saying that there are already enough Arab countries and it isn’t necessary to create another one, but the Palestinians are a different people and they have the right to self-determination.”
Finally, Karina Calandrin stresses the importance of reading and studying a subject before issuing opinions. She reinforces the need for people to read Palestinian and Israeli historians, besides being open to fight stereotypes: “It is very difficult to see the conflict because everybody has their passions. I always try to make a scientific analysis, I am a researcher and I try to analyze the facts scientifically. You start to see a lot of conceptual maneuvers to criticize both sides, a lot of fake news, misinformation. There are several arguments used in a frivolous way that do not help at all in the resolution of the conflict.”
The article above was edited by Isadora Noronha Pereira.
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